Please, Chromebooks, Don’t Turn into PCs

HP has produced a Chromebook, joining the likes of Acer, Samsung and Lenovo as they search for a credible Windows alternative.

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HP has produced a Chromebook, joining the likes of Acer, Samsung and Lenovo as they search for a credible Windows alternative.

The sudden uptick in interest from PC makers worries me, and I’ll explain why shortly.

First, a bit about HP’s product: Out of all the laptops running Google‘s Chrome OS software, HP’s Chromebook is the largest, with a 14-inch, 1366-by-768 resolution display. Other specs include an Intel Celeron processor, 2 GB of RAM, a 16 GB solid state drive, three USB ports, an SD card reader and HDMI output. The laptop measures 0.83 inches thick, weighs a little under four pounds and gets a measly four hours and 15 minutes on a charge.

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The device is available now for $330. That’s pricier than some other Chromebooks like Samsung’s Series 3 ($250) and Acer’s C7 ($200), but cheaper than the Samsung Series 5 550 ($450), which is far and away the best of the bunch. Lenovo makes a rugged $429 Chromebook, but it’s for schools only.

My concern is that as PC makers clamor to offer something besides Windows machines, they’ll do a disservice to what makes Chrome OS so useful. The browser-based operating system can’t install any software; it’s meant to be a fast, simple and safe way to get on the Internet, and that’s pretty much it. Accordingly, Chromebooks are at their best as lightweight, speedy machines with decent battery life.

That ideal vision is starting to fray at the edges.

Take, for instance, Acer’s $200 Chromebook. It’s desirable primarily because of its low price, but it has a few major drawbacks: At more than an inch thick, it’s on the chunky side for an 11-inch laptop, and its battery only lasts up to four hours on a charge. It also comes with a 320 GB hard drive instead of solid state storage, against Google’s own recommendations for Chrome OS. Solid state is faster and more reliable, so the hard drive seems like little more than a security blanket for users who think they need lots of storage. (I’m reminded of folks who can’t imagine life without a DVD drive, but never use the one they have.)

The HP Pavilion Chromebook has its own issues. Although a larger screen is nice in theory, HP’s laptop has the same 1366-by-768 resolution as nearly every other Chromebook on the market. You won’t see any more of a given web page — or see it any more clearly — than you would on a smaller laptop. But in exchange for that bigger screen, you get a bulkier frame and weak battery life.

Samsung and Lenovo have taken a better approach, designing their laptops to suit the task at hand. Samsung’s $250 Chromebook is surprisingly thin and light for its price, while the $450 model is surprisingly solid in the keyboard, trackpad and audio departments. Lenovo’s Chromebook is made to endure the abuse of students, as it comes equipped with a rubber bumper, reinforced hinges and other specialized durability features.

The nature of Chrome OS is that it’s open to any PC maker who wants to use it, and it doesn’t cost anything to license. That means the barrier to entry is low, but the potential for PC makers to mess up the experience is great. Hardware companies can go one way or the other, and consumers, drawn by the low prices, may not realize who’s really executing on the Chrome OS concept. (Acer’s $200 Chromebook, by the way, is a surprisingly strong seller, the company says.)

The same idea applies to the PC market today. For all the great PCs you can buy, there are plenty of poorly-designed PCs as well, the latter group is what gives Windows a bad reputation — undeservedly, in my opinion. I’d hate to see the same thing happen to Chromebooks.

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7 comments
MC
MC

$250 less than Samsung's, and all Samsung has to show for it is a thinner chassis. That's not a deal to me. I can put up with an extra inch or pound if it means I won't break the bank.

mitcoes
mitcoes

I  would have put a dual Chrome OS / ubuntu preinstalltion with a /home and a //swap shared and ubunt with Chrome syncroniced with the Chrome OS web apps as it is a powerful device. Or make 3 models, one with chormeOS, other with ubuntu and other dual as the client would like to purchase it.

S_Deemer
S_Deemer

 "You won’t see any more of a given web page — or see it any more clearly — than you would on a smaller laptop."

No, you won't see any more of a given web page, but all the elements on the page will be bigger, which can be a major help for a person with less than perfect vision. OR, you can change screen magnification, so that a smaller font is usable than would be the case on an 11.9" screen, so you really can see more of a given web page. I have compared the Acer C7, the Samsung ARM Chromebook, and the HP, and for my taste, the HP easily has the best screen of them all — on par with the 300 lux screens that came with the first generation of Samsung Chromebooks. The HP isn't as portable as the others, but it may fill a niche for people who prefer a more substantial laptop. And, unlike the Samsung, the HP has slotted memory, so you're not stuck with 2gb (which isn't enough for Chrome OS). 

ezekielpr
ezekielpr

Wrong guess minus five, as a navy electronics instructor used to tell us whenever we failed to troubleshoot or understand a given situation affecting a given equipment; in our present case the state of the personal computing industry..  

For casual web surfing multimedia and entertainment there are tablets; Android, iOS or Windows 8 . For heavy, serious, reliable, online WORK using powerful online applications there is ChromeOS and ChromeOS based devices. For the time being the online applications, with the possible exception of Gmail, , are not as powerful as locally installed apps.  So it is OK to promote the Chromebooks as reliable online access devices for chatting, reading email surfing, and social media interaction. But that is not their main intended purpose.  Eventually Cloud based applications will be more powerful than locally installed software. Then the Device of choice to connect to those applications will be the Chromebook. Design, develop, configure and optimized to run Web Based applications.

MIcrosoft, Apple, et. al, better start thinking about this, and designing their own optimized cloud and online apps interaction devices, their own Clonebooks in other words,  or Google will eventually take over the whole lot.

Within this context, it is good that HP has a larger size Chromebook. Mine is a CR-48 with a 12.1 inch screen. I love it as it is, yet sometimes I wish the screen were a couple of inches larger.  Now my dilemma  provided  I get the money to do it, is to choose between a larger screen laptop or get myself a desktop and a LARGE screen monitor.  I would love to have a 28 to 32 monitor with a resolution greater than 2048 X 1600 so than I may have 4 full size (1024 x 800) internet windows open side by side at the same time.  I called that optimum human multitasking.

As a writer I would love to  have one (full size) window with one or my blogs or Google Docs to write on; one  (full size) search window, one (full size) youtube window and one (full size) wikipedia window: all of them large enough to work comfortable without straining my eyesight which at 52 is not as sharp as it was when I was 20.  So I really need a large 24-32 inch monitor with a horizontal resolution of over 2048 and a vertical resolution greater than 1600 lines. 



ezekielpr
ezekielpr

I mean, I already has a Desktop running Ubuntu and Xubuntu 112.10, I meant a mini pc like the Chromebox....

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@ezekielpr Maybe it's because I live on an island but it seems to me that putting a vast maze of unreliability between me and my most important data is a step in the wrong direction. The cloud may be a good place to store data but expecting to outperform local storage for actual computing tasks is definitely a step backwards.

ezekielpr
ezekielpr

@PaulDirks @ezekielpr There are all kind of incentive for large internet corporations to develop online applications design to run in mainframe computers, orders of magnitude more powerful than PC's, the one limiting factor has been the internet speed. But Google and others are working to speed it up (see. the fiber google com experiment).

As I said I still have my desktop with Ubuntu/Xubuntu 12.10.  As soon as Debian 7 comes out, I will probably switch back to SalineOS, then based based on Debian 7.  So, for those things where I want my data and efforts 100% private and safe from internet eyes, I just keep them in my offline system.